The New Times (Kigali)

1 July 2014

Rwanda: How Uwamwezi Made It Big in Food Processing

Like most start-ups, Melcianne Uwamwezi's venture was small. Although she initially let the business dynamics tide sway her to whatever direction, she had simple investment models to follow. She knew her goal and how to get there.

She has since established a successful food processing venture.

"I started two years ago with a pilot study on pineapple snacks, a project that has since become my flagship brand," she says.

"I buy fresh pineapples, cut them into slices then dry the pieces using a solar drier. I then pack them in different sizes, brand and send them onto the market," 44-year old Uwamwezi explains.

Winning strategy:

Knowing the volatility of markets, and that small business mistakes usually lead to the collapse of small enterprises, she at first struggled to break even using the simplest investment model; reinvesting most of her returns (the investment multiplier), as well as leveraging expenses on costs of production and saving to cushion her business from market uncertainties like price fluctuations of her raw materials.

Additionally, she established cryptic connections with suppliers of her raw materials mainly pineapples and ensured quality control through establishing grades and standards for the desired raw materials.

"It is such initiatives that supported my business growth and I started earning profits over time, with my products accessing the targeted markets. Thereafter, I decided to expand the enterprise," she notes.

Her efforts and hard work have so far paid off. The Ministry of Trade and Industry recognised her efforts with a prestigious award at the recently-concluded annual Handicraft Excellence Award Programme (HEAP). Uwamwezi was the winner in the food processing category.

The competition was organised by the Indashyikirwa Craft Association Rwanda (ICAR).

Uwamwezi operates from a processing workshop that is fully equipped with modern processors.

The enterprise employs 14 workers, and Uwamwezi earns between Rwf400,000 and Rwf500,000 per month from the business.

"I reinvest some of the money and save the balance with the bank; my earnings have enabled me to live a decent livelihood and also provide for some dependants," she says.

Uwamwezi attributes her success to her business mentors, Spark, a local company that provides business support to entrepreneurs.

"Spark helped me to broaden my business knowledge and skills by taking me to expos, which helped create mass product awareness, access new markets and develop new ideas to diversify the business," she says.

Beyond Rwanda:

She says she recently sent product samples to prospective business partners in Sweden and was still awaiting a response.

"If this pulls through, I will be able to access more funds to expand the business and production capacity as well as export to the European market," she points out.

Challenges:

Uwamwezi says her main challenges include price fluctuations and stock outs of the best fruit grades during off season. This, she adds, compromises her product quality. She says though she would also like to participate in exhibitions organised across the region and in Europe she cannot afford the required fees. Uwamwezi believes that taking part in such expos would boost her skills, especially on branding, innovation, marketing and business management.

"I don't want to be restricted to producing pineapple snacks, but to diversify and establish several lines of trade. This will also create more jobs for the youth and boost government coffers in terms of taxes," she says.

Uwamwezi advises entrepreneurs and those intending to start businesses to have realistic targets, work hard, save and reinvest in the business to ensure its growth.

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